ALASKA-…It’s a Long Story
“Find something you love to do, and do it!”
-Maharaj, P. (Trinidadian businessman)
Currently, I’m drawn to people in pursuit of their passions. Everyday people working ordinary jobs while actively creating their own opportunities towards the things they love. One such person I want to acknowledge is my good friend and co-worker, Candice Alaska (above). As a favour, she did our engagement shoot in June this year. We spent the day being photographed at various locations along east-west Trinidad. Aaron and I realized that we are not really as romantic as we thought we were when it comes to outward displays of affection, but Candice did a superb job bringing out our uniqueness! Plus it was one of the most fun experiences I’ve ever had! I have always been deeply fascinated by her skills as a photographer, videographer and editor, and of recent, starting up her own NGO. So I decided to interview her on a one-to-one basis to get a bit more insight into her two passions.
What got you interested in photography?
A good few years ago, I got a camera. It was a Nikon- a professional camera, and I just wanted to learn everything about it. It just seemed so cool, so interesting. Somebody else I knew at the time got one and both of us were just figuring it out together. We would take pictures and say to each other,
“Look at the resolution, look at the high definition…you can see the detail, oh my god!”
Maybe a year or so later, I didn’t have style or anything, I was just taking pictures. About a year into that, I started doing engagement photos. Somebody asked me to do their engagement shoot and I did it. It was the first paid shoot I ever did! I really liked doing it and I just kind of went from there. I did some engagements, couples and weddings, and I really liked doing it.
I like capturing that kind of genuine emotion with people. I’m not too into the studio photography and portraits. I like seeing people laughing and getting into the moment. You can see people really in love. I think I got into the habit of knowing how to make people feel relaxed and bring out that natural side of them. I got into Photoshop before I started photography, and I use that to edit. Basically, I was obsessed with Photoshop and one thing led to another!
Why photograph couples, weddings, family sessions? Why not landscape, wildlife, etc.?
I don’t particularly like landscape photos. I’m not drawn to it. I just shoot what I like to see.
There’s something about the light and how it hits people’s faces when they’re laughing. When they are just kind of in that moment. I think it takes a certain type of skill-set to catch those moments.
A lot of photographers will just go for the posed shots instead, and you don’t really get that kind of genuine anything out of people when you do that. You just have them smiling and staring into the camera and I don’t like that. Plus, I like the idea of just following people around for an hour and watching them as they’re laughing. It’s fun for me! That’s why I came up with the tagline: “genuine, authentic moments.” Anybody could take those kind of pictures where you are standing up, staring and looking kind of awkward smiling. To me the ones you really remember years and years later are the ones where you were genuine. Where you can actually see that you were in love, and really laughing. To me those are the ones that you can look back on and really resonate with emotionally.
When you got into photography, what were some of the challenges you faced?
The business side of it was hard. You have to manage people’s expectations. For instance, each photographer has their own style so you always have to make sure and check out my other work before you book. You have to know that you like that style. If people don’t do that then you will have that conflict, where oh, they wanted something else—like they were expecting somebody else’s work!
I think in Trinidad people do not understand photography. Like the work that goes into it. They don’t value it. They think once you have a camera then you can be a photographer. Many people don’t like to pay photographers what they are worth in this country.
Another thing some might say is, “Send me the RAW files.” You don’t do that! Professional photographers are not going to send you their RAW files, unless somehow you specifically agree to that before-hand.
And then along those lines some people might be like, “Oh, you don’t have to edit,” because they feel that takes too long. They just say, “Send them to me.” I had that up until last year. That is so frustrating because that is like me giving you half the product. They don’t understand that I’m not doing this to make you look pretty. I’m doing this because we can’t get everything right in the camera. You literally have to edit them anyway. There’s a big difference between an unedited and edited photo. Things like that people need to understand a bit better. It’s worth a lot more money than what people are willing to spend. They need to understand that editing is part of the process and that each photographer has their own style. And try not to have unreasonable expectations!
On average, how long does it take to edit photos?
If I have nothing else to do in that week, I can get it done in a week. Otherwise, normally between 2-3 weeks.
People who consider trying photography or getting into the business, what advice would you give them?
I hardly give people creative advice. In terms of if you want to start learning how to do photography, I think it’s always good to figure out what kind you want to do. There are many different kinds, there is birding photography, etc. Not every photographer wants to do the same kind. If you ask a portrait photographer to shoot your wedding, it’s probably not going to come out as good as if you ask a wedding photographer.
Focus on an area and work on that. Excel at that area you want to do. And then also you have to be passionate about it. About whatever style of photography you decide to pursue. Otherwise, it will show in your pictures!
Is there any guide or tricks you follow when taking photos?
Even though it’s creative, you kind of have to keep it scientific too. At a photoshoot there are a lot of things running through my head. Like, “How do I take it; how do I bring out the real side of these people; how do I make them come out of their shell.” A lot of people are camera shy.
Especially if I haven’t done it [photography] in a while, then I forget my usual tricks but I’m always thinking, “How do I get these natural emotions; how do I not get them to sit down awkwardly, looking bored or expecting me to tell them what to do.” Sometimes people get bored too, and oh my god! then they start talking, talking, talking too!
“How do I turn that into you looking all passionate, and romantic, and gooey, and happy.” That’s always in my head.
Little tricks I would use too like, “Whisper something funny/sexy in her ear.” It looks really cute, because he’s whispering in your ear and you’re laughing.
What is one of your “best couples”?
My favourite one is one I did [yesterday] because I was late. I was about half an hour late because I couldn’t find Las Cuevas! (laughs). As a professional, I don’t like to be late. They were completely understanding but I felt really bad. They were just so low-key. They said they liked the way I capture light in my photos. I think they were awesome! Plus, they were just very low maintainence.
Is there any couple you remember that gave you a hard time?
Oh my god yeah! There was one that wasn’t happy with the photos. They had some experience with editing and they wanted to edit it themselves. It was really stressful. I tried really hard to accommodate them. I even went overboard by giving them extra things. People who have training or experience in editing always feel that they can do it better than you. I was really stressed out to be honest. I went to the grocery right after the shoot and I snapped at one of the managers. I was just in a really bad mood!
What has photography taught you in relation to other areas in your life?
I think it has taught me that I have the ability to do most of the things I want, in terms of skills. I remember when I was a teenager I would say, “I want to be a photographer,” and people would be like, “Well that’s real hard,” and I used to think that. It looks so complicated, all this gear and stuff. [Learning photography] was very encouraging because now I even do some video editing. I feel like now I can do things I didn’t think I could!
[Photography] is not something that only a certain particular set of people in the world can do. If you pick up a camera and get started, and if you keep at it, then you will learn to do it too. And that applies to anything you decide you really want to do.
Your photography business is called Candice Alaska. Why Alaska?
That’s a long story.
The abridged version then?
Alaska is taken from a John Green novel, Looking for Alaska. She was one of the main characters. I found out later in the book that Alaska came from the root word aleyska which means “that which the sea breaks against.” That was just another reason for me to love that word because I think it sounds really powerful. The idea that something that can change the course of oceans…can be that powerful…, that strong.
Where do you see your photography in the future?
I don’t see that as being the sole thing I’m going to do. For a few years it was. As much as I love it, I feel as though I have so many other skills and passions that I want to pursue. I think that it will essentially become part of something else. It can become part of the project #NotOkay or it could become part of me working for another company, in the marketing and communications department. Photography really lines up with so many other things. I think it’s a useful skill to have when you’re working in certain fields.
Tell me about #NotOkay.
We have very high incidences in this country of things like domestic violence, street harassment, sexual harassment in the workplace, child abuse, rape, sexual assault and others. Most importantly very sexist attitudes. I don’t mean to say that everybody is like that but you have a country where that is vast. It happens a lot and it is overwhelming. You see it in all four corners of the country.
We have very high occurrences of mental illness in many different forms, most prevalent in depression, anxiety and there are a lot of people who attempt suicide. We only know about the statistics, about the ones who commit suicide but there are a lot of attempts. We have high incidences of other things like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Again it happens all across the country. It doesn’t matter where you come from, or your socioeconomic standing.
Sexism, domestic violence, child abuse and mental illness is something that affects almost every single one of us. I think most of us can say we experienced some form of child abuse as children, in some way or the other. In terms of women who have not experienced domestic violence, we at least probably know someone who has. And to me the biggest contributor to these issues is our ATTITUDES towards it. It does not create mental illness but it makes it worse.
We have a lot of people who do not know how to talk to people suffering from mental illness, who make it worse, because when that person comes and says,
“I feel depressed,” or “I feel suicidal,” we tell them things like, “You’re too happy.” “Why are you feeling so for?” “You just want attention.”
What do you expect? How is that person going to feel after? They’re going to feel worse! And then people wonder why we have high rates of suicide. When you’re so insensitive you just make it worse. That’s just one small example.
I hate people calling people “mad”, “bipolar” and things like that. Up till now, they haven’t named a mental illness “madness,” last time I checked. And basically there are all kinds of neurological and psychological reasons for these to be happening. If you can just sit down and try to understand, you can save people a lot of pain. Pain by judging them, discriminating and making them feel worse about themselves. These people now don’t want to go and seek help which they do need. In a lot of cases you need medication and you can be very high functioning, you can continue to work, you can be just as normal as anybody else if you get the help. A lot of people don’t want to do it because of the attitudes that surround them. A lot of people don’t even know they have these things because a lot of people don’t even know about what mental illness is. You start to think of it as something somebody else out there has as some “mad people illness”, but yet all of us get physical illness.
If we stand up and get people to say these things are #NotOkay; these attitudes, then over time I hope that we change the culture, and by extension reduce a lot of the unnecessary suffering.
It’s #NotOkay to tell someone who is suicidal it’s “too good,”
it’s #NotOkay to call people with schizophrenia “mad” and that they’re taking “mad tablets” and then they don’t want to take their tablets,
it’s #NotOkay to make fun of any people going through some sort of mental illness because then they don’t want to come out and talk about it.
And then it’s #NotOkay we make jokes about hitting women.
And it’s really #Not Okay for you to sit down as a man and do nothing when you know your friend, or your partner is hitting or beating his girlfriend or wife.
We see it happen so many times and you don’t want to stand up for it. You don’t have to even get involved but your silence; your encouragement, makes them feel like they are validated in doing this. If you literally just stood up and say that is #NotOkay, that’s not cool and maybe distance yourself and show that you disapprove, then he might think twice about doing this.
He thinks it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay for a woman to get “a little licks.” I’m tired of seeing people acting like this is okay- it’s just a one-time thing, or “she was getting on.” Trinidadians find all sorts of reasons to justify hitting women, or being physically violent with women. That’s sickening and that to me is #NotOkay.
I would also like to add my 2 cents worth as the interviewer that it is #NotOkay to body shame people. More on this in a next post.
What inspired you to pursue this on a personal level?
On a personal level, if I am being honest I see it personally around me. I see this a lot, where I live. We have a lot of very ignorant attitudes. A lot of ignorant men in particular, but I would have done this regardless. It’s something I really care about.
I am really fed up of seeing people suffering from all these kinds of things.
But seeing how the suffering is spreading as well and nobody stands up and try to change the culture. Nobody seems to stand up and says anything differently. It just continues to fester.
Personally the men around me are very ignorant, very abusive, I know a lot of men who hit their girlfriends and beat them and they find ways to justify it. I think the sickening part about it is that. I think what is worse is seeing these men around you acting like that is okay. Turning a blind eye. I see them also over-sexualizing underage girls. If this was a first world country where laws were enforced, then that is illegal. I keep seeing so many people getting away with so many things. And it’s just disgusting. I was just fed up with it. I’m gonna do something to make a change. You all can’t just keep getting away with it! You can’t just keep getting away with treating women however you want. It’s disgusting. All your friends telling you that’s cool, that it makes you a man. No it doesn’t. You should feel ashamed of yourself!
Thus far have you been receiving a lot of support for this venture?
So far this has only been established about 3 months now. I would say for that time-frame, yes. Because more often than not the people that are asked to get involved are supportive and think it’s really a good initiative. That’s good because that is encouraging. I think it’s going to continue to grow. The videos can keep re-sharing, blogging, and re-posting because it’s related to everyone. It’s something new, different in the country. So I think it will continue to grow and keep getting more and more people.
What challenges have you also faced pursuing this venture?
[Laughs]. The same one…GETTING SUPPORT.
A lot of people see something new, and because sometimes you don’t shave a name status in the country, a lot of people don’t want to give you that support which I think is unfair.
Especially because you are just trying to do something good. I think people should realize that we need to support each other and that it’s not just people of a certain stature or a more established organization you should support.
You should support because you believe in the cause too.
And then a lot of people tend to look down on people who are now starting which I’ve come to encounter. I really don’t like it. It’s makes you feel small about what you’re doing. It makes you feel discouraged and if you have been established then you should just uplift other people who are trying to do something worthy.
When is World Mental Health day?
That is on October 10th.
World Suicide Awareness Month is in September. World Suicide Prevention day is September 10th, and that same week is Suicide Prevention week. It might be extended to more than a week because we’re getting a lot of people responding. The intention for this campaign is to collect messages from people throughout the country, in T&T specifically, to send to people suffering from suicidal thoughts.
I’m just trying to campaign in a different way people haven’t seen in the country.
Any last words you wish to share with people who want to pursue a cause, or something out there?
You just have to stick to it. You have to believe in it and be passionate about it. And just keep going because you are going to keep feeling like, “What is the point of this?” and that you’re not getting anywhere with this. But I think that is how you feel with the start of any kind of business or cause. Keep pushing past that point. That’s what I keep telling myself— “It’s for a good reason and just keep doing it!”
Even if it’s not reaching where you want to reach right now, just keep doing it anyway. Why not?
I would say that anybody who wants to get involved in #NotOkay please do and it’s easy to get in touch with me. Just by liking and sharing the posts and inviting your friends to like and share the posts too is also helping out as well.
Candice Alaska Photography